Nov. 2, 2010
Friend and Foe
By David Boyce
During his days playing quarterback at Northwest Missouri State, Josh Lamberson had an amazing ability to elude an oncoming rush and throw a perfect pass.
Lamberson was just as adept at quickly giving the perfect answer to any question.
He put those verbal skills to use again Monday afternoon, especially when asked if he were still a Bearcat.
Last spring Lamberson started walking around Warrensburg, Mo., in red, the loud color of the University of Central Missouri, formerly known as Central Missouri State or CMSU.
When head coach Willie Fritz left for Sam Houston State, athletic director Jerry Hughes hired former Northwest offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda and he brought in Lamberson as the wide receivers coach.
The Mules have taken to the new coaching staff in stunning fashion. A program that always seemed on the cusp of reaching the playoffs and falling just short has suddenly become the Bearcats biggest challenger this season.
On Saturday they square off for the MIAA title.
"It's a big game," Lamberson said. "We are going to treat it as such, but at the same time it is not the ultimate destination of where we want to be. I think our kids have done a great job of staying focused on playing the opponent in front of them regardless of their jerseys or their colors."
Perhaps the biggest game ever at Walton Stadium begins at 1:30 p.m. Northwest brings its 44-game conference winning streak to Warrensburg. Central Missouri is 8-0 in the MIAA and ranked No. 2 in region. Northwest is 7-0 in conference play and ranked fourth in the region.
For seven years there was no question who Lamberson would be pulling for in this game.
Back in the day - 2001 through 2005 - Lamberson did everything possible to beat every team in the MIAA. He spent two more seasons on Northwest's staff as an assistant coach.
He orchestrated the greatest playoff run in Northwest history, leading the Bearcats to four straight road playoff victories and made the play that nearly led to a national title in '05. Lamberson started the run of five straight national championship appearances for the Bearcats.
Lambo is still a Bearcat, right?
He gave a hearty laugh at the question that came near the end of the interview.
"That's where I went to school at," he said. "I have great memories from there. I love those guys up there and what they do and what they are about. They have a lot of passion for college football.
"But right now I'm a Mule and I'm happy to be here.
"I danced around that one big time."
He laughed again. He knew he had just given another answer that would please most people.
Lamberson has every right to feel good about the position he's in. He's still in the early stages of his coaching career and is learning from some of the best - first Mel Tjeerdsma and now Svoboda and Central Missouri offensive line coach Hank McClung.
"They bring a lot of football knowledge with them," Lamberson said of Svoboda and McClung. "When we all three get in a room and exchange ideas for what we want to do with our game plan, we bring different aspects and different views into it.
"It is pretty exciting when we all get together because all three of us kind of see things differently. We get into a melting pot of ideas and you don't know what is going to come out it. It has been fun so far. I hope it continues."
Central Missouri has only made the NCAA Division II playoffs once and that occurred in 2002 when the Mules finished 10-2. Central Missouri came close in '01 when it finished 10-2 and in '03 when it finished 9-2.
But that seemed to be the story during the Fritz era. Last year Central Missouri had an opportunity that just slipped out of its grasp. The Mules finished 8-3.
Fritz, though, left the program strong, leaving a solid senior class for Svoboda and his staff to work with.
"It has been an absolute blast," Lamberson said. "It has to do a lot with coach Svoboda and how he has approached the entire thing. But all the credit goes to the kids and how they have adapted to the situation, the new staff, our personalities and really the attitude they have taken to embrace everything we are trying to do offensively and defensively."
Understandably, Lamberson will feel some emotions during warm-ups before the game. He will see the team that he gave so much to and learned so much from.
Lamberson will see friends. He wishes them the best, except for three hours at Walton Stadium Saturday. But he has nothing but respect for what Northwest has accomplished.
"Northwest football, and rightfully so, is going to get a lot of the spotlight and a lot of the attention. They absolutely deserve it with the things those guys have done over there. It has been absolutely remarkable," he said.
"The run to national championship games and winning it last year and the consecutive conference wins they have put together is truly amazing and something you don't see in this day and age in college football. What they have put together I doubt will ever be duplicated again. You definitely pay attention to them."
Lamberson expects he will be able to say a few words to Northwest coaches before and after the game. He got a taste of what it's like facing a friend last week when Central Missouri played at Missouri Southern, which is coached by Bart Tatum, a former Northwest offensive coordinator.
"You still do the same things and try to put your team in the best position to win. In that fact, it really doesn't enter your mind and it really doesn't until right before the game and you see each other in warm ups," Lamberson said. "You say hello and give each other a hug and all that stuff.
"During the game it really doesn't play a role either. You don't really think about it until afterwards. You can stop and reminisce about all the good times you had. Coach Tatum and I did that a little bit before and after the game on Saturday.
"For the most part it doesn't affect what you are trying to do. It is kind of nice seeing the guys a little bit. With our busy schedules you don't get a lot of time to pick up the phone and talk to people. When you see them on Saturday you can kind of catch up and ask about the family."
Finally, Lamberson gave one more perfect answer to describe his life as a coach and what he hopes to achieve in this profession.
"Every day is a different day," he said. "That's one thing I love about our profession. You never have a Ground Hog day when you are dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds. You have a staff of different personalities. I think every day you have to win the day. Each day brings new battles.
"It's those every day struggles and battles that mount up that make you the person that you are. If you take the attitude that you are going to win each one of those and try to win the day, then that is going to make you a great person and a great coach.
David Boyce spent more than 20 years covering high school and small college athletics at the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri. He's covered six of Northwest Missouri State's seven national championship football games and recently served as a guest columnist for the MIAA.
Boyce was named KIAAA Sportswriter of the Year in 1994. He covered boxing at the Star from 1991-2004 including Tommy Morrison and worked both championship fights between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. His 1997 exclusive story on Morrison becoming HIV positive was named an Associated Press Sports Editor top 10 feature for papers serving more than 150,000.
Boyce was born in New York City and was raised in Kansas City, Kan. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1988 with a degree in journalism. He is currently one of three official scorers for the Kansas City Royals and is a contributing writer for the Royals Gameday magazine.
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